The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Twenty

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Twenty

I walked over to the white cat and squatted down next to it.It looked like Kiyoko had donned a cat Halloween costume.She looked up at me and smiled as blood ran from her mouth and stained her whiskers.

“Lawson-san.So…you see me as I am…at last.”

I nodded.“But I don’t know what you are.”

“And yet you don’t seem surprised.Perhaps…” Her voice trailed off as she tried to gather the strength.“Perhaps…you are more accustomed to oddities of nature than I thought?”

I glanced around.Higashi stood by the entrance of the house, surveying the scene, a look of disbelief on his face. 

I looked back at Kiyoko quickly and let my fangs extend for the briefest of moments before retracting them again.Her eyes widened and then she merely smiled.

“I wondered.”

I nodded.“I’ve seen many things but nothing like you.”

“We came from India through China and Korea many centuries ago.Japan offered us the isolation we needed.But our numbers have dwindled.Our birth rates plummeted.I never knew why.There are few of us left.The change only begins once you are older.In recent years, more of my kind started falling victim to psychotic episodes.Instead of growing into our abilities, they caused members of my race to lash out and start killing.”She looked over at the striped cat.“That is what befell Saigo.At first it was only blood that he craved.And then tonight…”Her voice trailed off.“Well, you saw the results of his handiwork.I tried to bargain with him.Help him.But he saw it as a threat and attacked me instead.”She glanced down.“And he did a marvelous job of ensuring I won’t live much longer.”

“What can I do?”

She smiled.“Let me die with dignity.I am old anyway…and should have shuffled along years ago.But I was kept here by my promise to look after Saigo.”

“What are you called?”

Kaibyo,” said Kiyoko.“And in the case of my family line, bakeneko…shapeshifters of the cat species.Maybe you’ve heard of werewolves?”

“Maybe.”

“We were always better,” she said with a smile and a sigh.“Now…at last, my time has come.Thank you for listening.”

A paw reached out and covered my hand.It felt warm to the touch and as I looked back up, Kiyoko’s eyes rolled back and she shifted completely into the form of a cat.I watched as her body shrank to half its size, amid the pool of blood and gore, her white fur stained a dark crimson brown.

She was gone.

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The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Nineteen

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Nineteen

As I approached, the light from within threw shadows up against the shoji screens and I paused in mid-step.  There was an image of one creature standing on its hind legs swiping at another creature also stood on its hind legs.

Not one cat.

But two.

I kicked my way through the front door and before me stood the two cats locked in battle.  They circled and swiped the air with vicious claws that looked like they could disembowel a man with one glancing blow.  The cat on the left was covered in white fur tinged with silver while the cat on the right was striped like a tiger.  It was also showing blood on its coat.  Was this the creature that I’d shot in the forest?

I didn’t have time to think because they leapt and crashed all around the house, tearing it apart completely.  Both of them snarled, swiped, and bit at the other.  Spittle and blood stained the air and every wall as the battle increased. 

And then striped cat caught the white one across its belly with a single horrible swipe.  The white cat fell away with a howl that made my ears cringe.

The striped cat then turned to me and hissed.  I saw a mouth full of fangs that dripped with blood.  Its eyes bore into mine and then it leapt right at me.

I fired.

And kept shooting until the magazine was empty and I heard the click of the hammer falling on an empty chamber. 

The striped cat sprawled on the floor, bleeding from all the gunshot wounds.  I watched as its lungs heaved and then finally stopped.

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The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Eighteen

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Eighteen

Higashi whispered over the din of rain and wind.  “If it’s heading back to the town…”. His voice trailed off but I got his meaning.  A wounded creature heading back to town would be even more dangerous.

“We’ll find it,” I said.

Going downhill was tougher because of the slippery footing underneath.  The tracks themselves started looking strange as well.  I didn’t know if the water was affecting them or if something else was happening.

Lycans, for example, could shapeshift as they moved.  But was this creature capable of that also?

And if so, how?

The trail led us down the side of the mountain, with Higashi still taking point.  He must have thought he had to since he had the flashlight.  I followed behind, turning every couple of steps to make sure nothing snuck up on us from behind.  I’d done enough tracking to know you could loop around in a big wide circle and set an ambush for anyone tracking you.

But then we reached the spot where I’d entered the woods earlier today and stepped out on the Kiyoko’s road.  The tracks vanished.

Higashi stopped and looked back at me.  “What now?”

“We split up?”

He sighed.  “I was afraid you were going to say that.”

I smirked.  “Yeah, I’m not exactly crazy about it, either.  But what choice do we have?  If we want to make sure this thing doesn’t hurt anyone else, we’re going to have to be quick.”

Higashi nodded.  “All right then.  But be careful.”

He broke away to my left, creeping down a smaller path behind another house.  I watched his flashlight beam bounce around for a few seconds and then I moved off down the road.  I drew abreast of Kiyoko’s house and stopped.  There was a light on in one of the windows.  At this time of night?  I frowned.  Maybe she couldn’t sleep?

I crept up the gravel path toward her door.

My footsteps ground the stones together and I froze.

I heard voices coming from inside the house, but they weren’t speaking Japanese.  It sounded like some sort of sing-song Asiatic tongue that I couldn’t understand.  And I’d been exposed to plenty of them.

Then I heard something I could only describe as a horrendous hiss sound followed by a shriek and howl.

I aimed my pistol up at the house as I dashed forward. 

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The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Seventeen

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Seventeen

I had both hands on my pistol, sweeping as we moved further up the slope of the mountain.  Higashi’s footsteps were surprisingly quiet.  He had the flashlight under his gun in the classic two-handed style of cops everywhere.  I kept my eyes on the tracks as we moved.  We were at a definite disadvantage when it came to hearing, but I suspected the rains and winds would dissipate our scents.  If it truly was a cat of some type, then the chances of it sniffing us out seemed lower than they might have been otherwise.

The forest around us lit up as lightning slashed across the sky. 

I thought I saw something.

There.

I jerked my pistol up and squeezed off a round.

But I blinked and the damned thing was gone.

A clap of thunder boomed overhead and I nearly jumped out of my skin.  Higashi jerked as well.  But he’d heard my shot and turned. 

“What did you see?”

The barrel of my pistol still smoked.  I could smell the cordite on the air.

What the hell had I just seen?

It had been fifty meters away – maybe.  Big.  Some sort of cat.  I could see the ears, the tail, the snarl of its fangs as it eyed us like we were some type of nuisance.

Or prey.

“Lawson-san.”

I blinked.  Higashi was close, but he kept his attention focused outward.  He must have known I wouldn’t have fired if I hadn’t seen a target.

“I saw a cat.  It looked as big as a mountain lion.  Bigger even.”

Higashi frowned.  “No such thing in Japan.”

“Then someone either let one loose or it’s something else entirely,” I said.  “But I know what I saw.”

“I don’t doubt you.  What happened when you fired?”

I shook my head.  “It disappeared.  One second it was there and the next it was gone.”

“Just like that?”  Higashi scanned the ground, looking for more tracks.

I climbed the slope toward where I’d seen the cat.  As I did so, I kept the pistol at low-ready.  If I saw the creature again, I wasn’t going to miss.

On the ground, I saw a smear of a track, indicating a sudden burst of speed.  There was a chance I’d missed my target, or else I hadn’t and the round was still embedded in the creature.

Higashi joined me and we followed the tracks, noticing that they were now heading downhill.  Back toward the village.

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The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Sixteen

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Sixteen

Before I could say anything, Higashi raised a hand.  “I’m not about to tell you it’s wrong or unauthorized or any of that bureaucratic crap.  I’ve got more than I can handle with three deaths right now.  The sooner I can resolve it, the better.  And if that means some gaijin comes to town with a gun straight out of a bad western, then so be it.”

Higashi barked some orders at the two guys standing around and they moved to the van parked further down the road, returning with a body bag and a stretcher.  Higashi nodded at me.  “Let’s see if we can make some sort of sense out of this, shall we?”

Higashi led me down to the area around the kill site.  I didn’t know how crime scenes worked in Japan, but thus far he seemed to be foregoing the need for yellow tape.  Higashi moved to the side of the culvert and pointed.  “You see?”

Peering closer, I saw the tracks.  They were muddy and far from perfectly formed, which was understandable given the muddy terrain.  I didn’t see any claws.  Whatever had done this, it wasn’t a Lycan, near as I could tell.

Higashi looked back at me.  “What do you think?”

“I can’t tell what made those tracks.”

“Neither can I.  But they’re fresh.  And that means there are more to be found in the woods.  If we hurry.”

“You mean to follow them right now?”

Higashi regarded me for a moment.  “Is there a better time?”

“Well, yeah, maybe when the sun is up.”

Higashi drew his pistol and flashlight.  “You said you wanted answers for the young man’s family back in Canada.  Now’s your chance to get them.”

Since there didn’t seem any point in denying the existence of my pistol, I drew it and followed him into the woods. 

Like earlier, as soon as we were under the canopy, the volume of rain decreased as the branches overhead diverted it.  Higashi led the way, even though I could have easily tracked in the dark.  His flashlight panned back and forth across the soggy ground. 

He was right: the tracks were easy to see.  Higashi looked back.  “Make sure I don’t walk into an ambush.  If this animal thinks it’s being hunted, there’s no telling what it might do.”

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